This spring saw the revival of the well-loved musical Pippin, which opened on Broadway after an acclaimed run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA. The production, which has received 10 Tony Award nominations, was directed by Diane Paulus, who brought a fresh take on the story by setting it in the world of the circus. She led a creative team that included scenic designer Scott Pask, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, sound designers Jonathan Deans and Garth Helm, costume designer Dominique Lemieux, choreographer Chet Walker, and circus creations by Gypsy Snider.
While the show over the years has been done by nearly ever high school in America, it has not been produced on Broadway since it’s original run in the early 70s. Pippin, with its well-known score, tells the story of a young prince who takes a journey to find meaning and significance in his life. Paulus’ circus concept and collaboration with Snider and Walker, who pays homage to Fosse’s original signature choreography for the show, himself a dancer in that original production, gave creative inspiration to the entire design team. We caught up with Pask about the environment he created for this beloved revival.
Live Design: Talk about the development of the set and how it supports Paulus’ concept for this ambitious production.
Scott Pask: The important thing was that we never set out to actually even create a big top; it was more of developing the circus concept and how it sort of liberates the musical for us. I just began to design environments. It is natural, in thinking about it, that it would want to be something that was portable--something that could be put up and taken down. So it would have it roots historically, whether it’s in America as traveling medicine shows, in medieval passion plays, pageantry, troubadours, and the traveling circuses of the early 20th century; they all are there.
We wanted to hold onto some of those ideas. I think the idea of having some fabric, like an old tent, and then embellishing it with this kind of odd galaxy of stars that looks like it was conceived in the early 20th century, hand-painted. There is a sort of handcrafted nature to it. It all spoke to the idea of this having a life before it, and it has been traveling around--that this tent had been patched, that panels had been replaced. It has this patina or age to it, so when it’s pitched up wherever we are, firstly in Cambridge and then here, that it looks like it’s been moving around awhile. It supports Diane’s concept of the show as this circus. It’s a noir circus--a much more surreal application of that word--and then infuse that with Chet Walkers’ choreography and Gypsy Snider’s incredible circus techniques and displays, and you have this incredible, "What’s next?" That’s ultimately what is so important—what’s next?